Personal Journeys


September 11, 2005|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

A mountain town with a certain magic

By Neville Uhles


I made a trip to Ouray, Colo., this summer. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of the state, Ouray is surrounded by rugged peaks -- hence its nickname: Switzerland of the Rockies.

Only about 900 people live there year-round. The nearest major airport is about two hours away, and skiing requires an hour's drive, so Ouray has not become a well-known attraction. However, to me, Ouray's sense of community, friendliness, fascinating history and natural beauty make it one of the most magical places on earth.

In 1985, my Uncle John decided to quit his corporate job in Los Angeles to try another way of life. He and his wife of four months, Barbara, bought two lodges in Ouray and moved into one of them with his three young children. Twenty years later, still running the Box Canyon Lodge with Barbara, Uncle John says it was the best thing he ever did.

This was my third visit to Ouray. The first time I visited, at age 12, I was an East Coast child struck by the vastness of the mountains. At 23, I was captivated by small shops offering Native American crafts, the tiny one-screen movie theater, the natural hot springs swimming pool, and rides along narrow roads with 500-foot drop-offs.

This visit, at 31, it was Ouray's embodiment of community values that made the strongest impression on me.

As we took an arrival-day walk and wandered into the Community Center, we found a friend of my uncle's preparing meals for a group of local elderly residents.

Later, we came upon Ouray Mountain Rescue shirts and hats for sale, with profits benefiting the all-volunteer group committed to rescuing those trapped by snow or avalanche.

Still later, we ate in a restaurant with dollar bills tacked across the ceiling. If you inquire about the bills, you pay for your curiosity by adding another dollar to the collection, which ultimately goes to local Ouray charitable causes.

Having a few drinks at the Elks Lodge, we learned that the Elks dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve every year and make sure every child in town gets a visit -- even those staying in the hotels and motels.

As I chatted with Aunt Barbara about breakfast options, she noted that the Box Canyon doesn't serve breakfast so as not to take business away from local restaurants and cafes.

Throughout my weeklong visit, I observed countless citizens who actually seem to look out for each other and want the best for one another. I hadn't realized just how much the dog-eat-dog life had come to seem normal to me -- and just how refreshing it is to spend time in my beloved Ouray.

Neville Uhles lives in Washington.

My Best Shot

Mary-Jo Bennett,

Hedgesville, W.Va.

View from the home planet

This photo was taken in Reno, Nev., from the 26th floor of the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino's parking garage as the sun was coming up over the mountains. The dome in the foreground houses a large, 120-foot mining machine that is the centerpiece inside the Silver Legacy's casino. I think the image looks like something taken from outer space.

Readers Recommend

Bar Harbor, Maine

Marty Sharrow, Owings Mills

My wife and I recently traveled to Bar Harbor to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. The community was named for Bar Island, which protects the harbor. One foggy morning after breakfast, we walked to Frenchman Bay, just east of town. The fog started to lift, and, to our delight, we saw the harbor (pictured). The image captures the beauty of the bay.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Lisa Adkins, Forest Hill

On St. Croix, it's not all about beaches, snorkeling and shopping. There's also lots of wildlife to see while exploring the island. There are fields of cows, goats and horses, mongooses skittering across the roads and stray cats in many restaurants to share your meal with. We also saw a horse (pictured) giving a couple of birds a ride. Not to be missed: the (nonalcoholic) beer-drinking pigs at the MT Pellier Hut Domino Club.

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